Monday, August 12, 2019

You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames

Reviewed by Ambrea

Joe is a former FBI agent and ex-Marine.  Between the horrors of his job and the pain he faced during his childhood, Joe is damaged and withdrawn and dangerous—but he continues to earn a living by working off-the-books cases that no one else will take, like saving the daughter of a corrupt New York senator.  Joe assumes it will be like any other job he’s taken, until he stumbles across a conspiracy that involves millions of dollars, toxic secrets, and Mafia connections.  When Joe stands to lose everything, he sets his sights on the one thing he knows:  revenge.

I read You Were Never Really Here over the course of a morning.  It’s a short book—perhaps more of a novella than anything—so it doesn’t take very long to read; however, it is intense and it is incredibly brutal.  Admittedly, I felt a little squeamish during certain parts (which, oddly enough, had very little to do with Joe’s affinity for using hammers), but I noticed violence is pronounced as a matter of course.  It happens, but, as Joe doesn’t dwell on it, the author doesn’t appear to let readers do so either; rather, when Joe is actually impacted, readers are given a clearer image of the violence he faces.

There’s something captivating about this story.  I mean, on the one hand, you have a man who is seeking a brutal kind of justice.  I wanted to find out what happens to Joe—does he save the girl? Does he solve the mystery?  Does he tear down the Mafia, piece by piece?—and I wanted to learn more; I wanted to see where Joe’s story would lead.  On the other hand, You Were Never Really Here is like watching a disaster unfold and, for a moment, you can’t take your eyes off of it.

Overall, it’s an interesting book.  I wouldn’t recommend it for just anyone, given the degree of violence; however, I would recommend it to fans of noir dramas and gritty, damaged heroes, looking for a short, standalone story to fill in some time.  I’m hoping to find the movie and watch it at some point to see how it stacks up against the book—plus, I’m curious to see how Joaquin Phoenix manages to play Joe.

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